Editorial Policy

Wife bails husband out of card debt, again

Erica Sandberg

November 25, 2014

QHi Erica,

My husband always racks up debt on our credit cards. Smart guy, but he just doesn't pay attention or care. Then I come around, yell, and pay it off. He promises to be more responsible and then it happens again! Last time I had him take money out of his investment account to pay for the debt, and he argued and fought, but eventually agreed. So, guess what? One year later and his card is back to $5,000. He's embarrassed, and I'm mad. This is our only relationship problem, and I don't want divorce. What do you suggest? Ginger

ADear Ginger,

What a sticky situation. Because you're married, you are connected to your husband's finances to at least some degree. Presuming you live in the same home, pay bills as a unit, vacation together and are preparing for a mutual retirement, his actions absolutely affect your present and future well-being. I don't suppose you need me to tell you that he's hurting you, but if you want my validation, you've got it.

What can you do? Pursue couples counseling, immediately. Since you say divorce is not an option (at this stage, anyway), you must work on your communication skills, especially on discussions concerning money and credit. It sounds as though you're screaming into the wind and have been for a long time.Ask Erica

It's possible that your husband thinks you're over-reacting. Since you appear to have enough funds to cover what he charges, he may not consider the issue a big deal. And it is. While you can't make him see that, a professional might. An objective and trained third party can also help you talk to each other effectively and form agreements about mutually acceptable financial decisions.

As for my personal recommendations, go ahead, and as a couple, pay off his card debt again. Keeping a big balance like this is expensive because of interest fees. If you can get the debt down to zero, do it.

After that, have him cancel his card account, while you close the joint accounts. He has proven that he cannot be trusted with plastic. I can imagine that you'll feel more secure when his temptation to charge is removed. Also, if he is as ashamed of his actions as he claims, he might be finally ready to call it quits.

If you have individual cards that he does not have legal access to, keep them active. It will help you build and maintain a positive credit rating, which will be beneficial if you want to buy a home or car with a loan.

Next, pull your respective credit reports, and then review them together. Be prepared, though. His may reveal accounts that you didn't know existed, but he was too afraid to tell you about. I hope not, but it's high time for him to come clean about everything, and the reports are a great tell-all mechanism. You need to know exactly what you're dealing with. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com and check your reports for free.

Make sure you share your reports as well — it's good for you to be as transparent as you want your husband to be. Maybe you've paid a bill late or have a collection account on your report. Few people are perfect. But what matters is that you are committed to being truthful and working toward a common and healthy goal.

In the event that you can't come together on this issue, but you still want to remain wife and husband, I urge you to consider forming a postnuptial agreement.

Just as a prenuptial agreement is formed before getting married, a postnuptial stipulates ownership and division of assets and liabilities in case you divorce. Yes, I understand that your intention is to keep the relationship intact, and that's wonderful. However, because of the longstanding nature of the problem, it's important to be realistic and pragmatic. Your husband may not change his overcharging ways, and if you are forced into making an undesired decision, such a document can act as valuable insurance against being stuck with his obligations.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.